A guide to using freelancer websites

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A female freelancer working on a laptop in a home setting

It’s no secret that the gig economy and side hustle culture has grown rapidly in recent times in Australia. Today, that has never been more clear with an increasing number of workers leaving the security of a regular 9-to-5 job for the more flexible gig economy.

Just how big the gig economy workforce is in Australia is difficult to determine due to limited data on the topic, but it is estimated to include hundreds of thousands of workers nationwide. Other estimates suggest about 7% of Australians are finding jobs in the gig economy to help earn a living, via more than 100 different digital platforms.

The gig economy and freelancing

Lady looking at a document in a professional environment

To be clear, when we talk about the gig economy we are talking about Australian workers involved in freelance, contractual or part-time work versus traditional employment.

Gig economy work is also usually characterised by the provision of on-demand services, with a digital platform often mediating the transaction between worker and end user. Common examples of gig roles include online tutors, freelance writers, digital marketing specialists, cybersecurity experts, designers, voice artists and many more.

More young workers are freelancers

In terms of participants, many of the workers involved in the gig economy are from Gen Z. In fact, a recent report from YouGov found that 42% of ‘Zoomers’ have made money on freelance platforms, and 28% intend to in the future.

Gen Z accounts for a greater share as independent work offers a way into the labour force while also providing more flexibility, something they value greatly. Another factor, according to freelance platform Fiverr, is that Gen Zs want to tailor their own career path with opportunities to move across roles at a rapid rate.

Freelancers turning to gig websites

As a freelancer, whether it's your main source of income or a side hustle, securing work is always a top priority. Unlike a conventional 9 to 5, there's no regular pay cheque so it's up to you to keep work coming in.

With so many platforms available, it can be difficult to find those that strike the perfect balance between quality projects on offer and fair payment rates.

Even so, given most freelancer activity now takes place on platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, and Guru, it’s essential to know how to get the most out of them.

With that in mind, this comprehensive guide gives you key information to start out on your freelancer journey, with tools to avoid common pitfalls when using freelancer websites.

Commencing the freelancer journey: 3 key considerations

Man sitting down working on a laptop with a coffee

In essence, starting out as a freelancer means developing the required skill sets, then building a portfolio, and finally deciding where to sell your services. This is critical because to acquire more clients, you need to look in the right places.

Importantly, you don’t have to start out by hitting up freelancer websites. In fact, given the intense competition that exists there, and the variable pay rates, you may be better served tapping into pre-existing networks to drum up business.

1. Utilise existing networks 

This is where word of mouth from friends, family, and colleagues can assist. There’s also the option to join local networking groups or trade or industry associations, where you can meet others with professional interests and who may be in the market for your services.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to leverage social media as much as you can. As a first port of call, there’s LinkedIn, the popular social media network for professionals. Spending the time to build connections, publish content and join groups on LinkedIn is a low-impact way to reach potential contacts. Don’t forget to get the word out on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms that may generate leads.

2. Register a domain and set up your website

Marketing yourself whether it’s on social media platforms, a job board, or a freelancer website, is another fundamental. It is key to create an online presence by registering a domain, signing up for web hosting and having control over your own website. Once you have your own website that showcases your offering, use search engine optimisation (SEO) to help clients find you by ensuring your site is optimised for search engine rankings.

3. Freelancer websites vs job boards

There’s a final option to cross off the list – jobs boards. Freelance websites or marketplaces are platforms that act as ‘middlemen’ between clients and freelancers. On these sites, you generally start out by creating a profile and then applying for jobs posted by clients of the site. Critically, the platform handles all the communications, briefings and connections between the freelancer and the client, with the freelancer barred from contacting clients off-site.

This comes at a price, with the platform charging the freelancer a fee for their services, which varies according to the website that you sign up for. So, before deciding on a site to work from, check the terms and conditions of the platform to gain a clearer understanding of the fees.

By contrast, on job boards you deal directly with clients and get paid directly from them without a cut being taken, thereby eliminating the middleman. Job boards are a great way to find jobs but can be tricky for new freelancers to get work on, given the high competition.

Joining a freelancer website

A male freelancer with documents in hand looking at a laptop

Jumping into the world of freelancer websites undoubtedly gives you the chance to apply for gigs in your space, but be aware - you’ll be competing with many other freelancers in the same field. The aim is to use whatever opportunities you secure to get feedback from clients, refine your processes, and in time, move on to more lucrative projects.

As a first step, it’s advisable to create profiles on various freelancer platforms to widen your connections and increase chances of getting gigs. The way it generally works to create a profile is you input all your skill sets, education, experience, portfolio and other basic information so potential clients have an idea of whether you may be a good fit for the gig.

Before hiring, clients also commonly have the option to ask additional questions to understand more about your skills and experience in the field, as well as to get to know you a bit in order to make sure the relationship will be a good fit for both parties.

Which are the most popular freelancer websites?

Here are the main players when it comes to freelancer websites:

  • Fiverr: A freelance website great for those starting out. It offers more than 200 categories of services, is very user-friendly, and has several billing options
  • Upwork: As one of the world's biggest freelancer websites, Upwork is ideal for seeking out specialised projects and also allows you to tap into a global market
  • Freelancer: An Australian market leader, Freelancer gives you the ability to offer services in over 1,350 job categories, with fixed price or hourly payment options
  • Guru: Perhaps not as well known as other major websites, Guru is a great option for beginners as it offers secure payment channels and charges some of the lowest fees

How to use freelancer websites - beginners

A male freelance worker next to a laptop and a Brother inkjet printer

For a freelance website novice, there’s quite a bit to consider before getting started. However, here are three key pieces of advice to get you up and running in no time.

1. Find your niche

Be specific about the line of work you're in. Being vague about the services you offer will see potential clients pass you by. For instance, billing yourself as a 'web designer' or 'editor' will be unlikely to grab the attention of clients looking for a particular, well-honed skill set.

So, instead of being general about your skills, try to market yourself in a niche segment. If you're, say, a writer, you could go for ‘financial markets writing’ or ‘listicles writing expert’ to make yourself stand out from the competition instead of listing as simply a ‘writer’.

There are a host of niche freelancer websites you might like to check out in addition to the generic industry heavyweights. Some of these that may assist, depending on where you are located geographically, include Contena for writers, Codeable for developers, The Creative Loft for photographers and CommissionCrowd for salespeople.

2. Aim for great testimonials

Delivering great products or services on your freelance projects will prompt high-level testimonials, which can then be used to promote yourself, leading to future work.

Here are some tips to deliver great outcomes for clients and secure glowing testimonials:

  • Establish clear expectations: Make sure to set clear expectations with each client on scope, payment and delivery timelines so there are no misunderstandings prior to the start of a project that could lead to problems down the track 
  • Demonstrate professionalism: The business world can be cutthroat, but it's key to remain professional and reliable with clients. This helps build your reputation in the industry and will assist in making clients want to return to you for future projects
  • Go the extra mile on service delivery: Make sure to execute what you promised for the client. Block out the appropriate amount of time, meet all deadlines and communicate in a timely fashion with the client via one agreed-upon channel

3. Set yourself up for success

This all depends on you being set up to get the job done efficiently and effectively. So ask yourself: ‘Do I have everything I need to get started successfully?’

At the top of the list is keeping track of your freelance finances. Budgeting can make or break a business, especially in the first few years of operation. So take control of your finances by retaining the services of an accountant, or using financial management software or a budgeting app to help you track invoices, cash flow, expenses and business debts, etc.

There are also the administrative fundamentals you will have to undertake when kicking off your own business, like deciding whether you want to operate as a sole trader or company and completing the necessary formalities such as setting up an ABN.

You’ll also need the right work tools, depending on the work you plan to commence. For many types of white-collar freelancers like copywriters, editors and graphic designers, a big part of this will be deciding on the correct office equipment for your home office.

For example, if you plan on printing your work, scanning files to share with clients, or creating copies of physical files, having a reliable all-in-one printer can be a lifeline and a crucial tool for getting your work done.

The Brother INKvestment Multi-Function Printer - MFCJ4340DW XL for example, enables you to print professional-quality documents in colour and features multiple connectivity options that allow you to print from and scan to popular cloud services. For more helpful tips, read our guide on top home office trends to inspire you to create your ultimate freelancer working station.

How to use freelancer websites - experienced workers

A lady freelancer looking at a work calendar on a computer screen

As you gain more experience on freelancer websites, it is advisable to build your portfolio by tackling more challenging projects to expand the range of services you offer. That way, you will become a more attractive option to a broader array of clients looking for multiple skill sets.

Constantly improve your processes

As part of your growth as a freelancer, you should constantly review your work and workflow processes to make improvements. This will assist in building your customer base, speeding up your delivery, and increasing the fees you can charge for your services.

Fine-tuning your processes can also be great for your sense of wellbeing and mental health as you'll be better able to see where you are at any point, whether that's to do with finances, or milestones on projects currently underway. Being clear where things are at in your freelancing career will help you stay calm at times when the to-do list may feel overly long. 

Pricing: don't sell yourself short

You may have started out on freelancer websites pricing your services at the low end of the market but now that you have regular clients and solid testimonials don’t be afraid to lift your rates appropriately. Remember, there’s no point in freelancing if you can’t make money.

At the same time, you don’t want to hike your rates too high and then be priced out of the market. To hit the right mark, take a look at your competitors at a similar experience level to see what they’re charging for similar work, then use that as a reference point on fees.

There’s also the option on major websites like Upwork or Fiverr to check the current general rates for your area of expertise. To work out your pricing, a common method is a cost-plus approach where you factor in your costs, but also the ongoing market rates.

When it comes to how to charge, according to the Harvard Business Review the two most popular rate structures are either by the project (31%) or charging hourly (58%). 

Build loyalty with clients

It can be a tough slog doing single projects for different clients as this means having to spend a lot of time on customer acquisition. A more efficient approach is to secure repeat work, with this leading to consistency in your pipeline of work, and potential referrals.

Make sure you interact with your clients in a personable way to establish rapport and trust. Also, seek to find out what other projects they might be in the market for and offer your support. And most of all, never overpromise, then underdeliver.

Learn to coordinate multiple clients

As you bring in more work, effectively planning your work week in advance becomes essential to save time, boost productivity, and minimise stress while keeping clients happy.

Top tips on juggling clients on freelancer websites include being clear on what to say yes to, splitting your week into 'themes' like management, growth, administration and business development and delegating tasks where possible. You can read more about developing an effective work schedule with Brother's guide and don't forget to use our free weekly planner template

As a freelancer, there is never time to rest on your laurels. Consistently strive to ensure that your standards stay high, that you remain motivated, and that you work on a daily basis to push your skills and business to the next level, which will help to give you long-term success.

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